It’s that time of year where Limelight Magazine lists our top 10 albums of the year. We had a hard time creating this list because there was so much great music released in 2016. We cannot recall such a year where so many musicians were at the top of their game. Since tough choices had to be made, this is the list we decided on. Because we wanted to acknowledge some of the other artists who didn’t make the top 10, we created an honorable mention list which follows.
- David Bowie – Blackstar
When I first heard David Bowie’s Blackstar on January 8, 2016, I immediately loved everything about this album. I played it at least a dozen times before finding out that Bowie had died two days later. He hid his illness from almost everyone and, following its release, longtime producer Tony Visconti said this was Bowie’s “parting gift” to his fans. As his intended swan song, this album is classic Bowie incorporating a number of different genres, including avant garde, pop, jazz, electronic, and alternative rock, into on one cohesive album. The album is artistic and dark yet extremely relevant. We’re proud to name this our favorite album of 2016. It’s a must have whether you are a fan of Bowie or not. (Standout Tracks: “Blackstar” & “Lazarus”). Billboard Top 200 Peak Position: #1.
- Megadeth – Dystopia
If anyone told us that Megadeth would release one of the best albums of their career in 2016, we probably wouldn’t have believed it. But, with Lamb of God drummer Chris Alder and Angra guitarist Kiko Loureiro in the fold, they’ve done just that. Dystopia contains 11 captivating songs that show the band can harken back to their classic thrash metal sound of the 80s and early 90s while still continuing to evolve. There is not a track on here that isn’t good and the band has hit a home run. After two mediocre studio albums with Thirteen and Super Collider, this is the album Megadeth needed to make! (Standout Tracks: “Fatal Illusion” & “Post American World”). Billboard Top 200 Peak Position: #3.
- Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake
If there is one thing that sets Testament apart from most of their peers is this band consistently creates pure thrash metal without ever being a disappointment. Very few bands in this genre continue to get better with each new studio album but Testament does. Brotherhood of the Snake is everything you’d expect from this band and more. It contains 10 aggressive songs that once again show Testament at the top of their game. This is a must have for any thrash metal or Testament fan. (Standout tracks: “The Pale King” & “Neptune’s Spear”). Billboard Top 200 Peak Position: #20.
- Metallica – Hardwired…To Self Destruct
On their first studio album in eight years, Metallica return in a big way. While I was a fan of their last studio album Death Magnetic, I’d say this is their best collection of songs since the “black album” with some tracks being just as good as what Metallica recorded before that. This album is rooted in thrash metal but with catchy melodies. Although the second disc is slightly riskier, the songs still work, especially the standout track of the album “Spit Out the Bone.” Can’t wait to hear these songs performed live in 2017! (Standout tracks: “Spit Out the Bone” & “Moth Into Flame”). Billboard Top 200 Peak Position: #1
- Steve Wilson – 4½
While not a full-length album, this EP serves as an interim release between Wilson’s fourth solo album Hand. Cannot. Erase. and his upcoming fifth full-length studio album that will be released in 2017. Clocking in at 36 minutes, 4½ is another Wilson album that does not disappoint. The album flows together nicely considering the songs are “leftover” tracks from his last album and the band really gels. Every Wilson album has made our top 10 so we’re really excited about next year’s release. (Standout Tracks: “Vermillioncore” & “My Book of Regrets”). Billboard Top 200 Peak Position: #114.
- Kansas – The Prelude Implicit
When we heard Kansas were recording a new album, we were a little hesitant because vocalist Steve Walsh was no longer in the band. However, since the two albums they released in the early 80s without him were good, we were very open to The Prelude Implicit. What we didn’t expect is for it to be this solid, especially since they hadn’t released new music in 16 years. In fact, it’s not only one of their freshest sounding albums since the 70s, it’s also one of their best. Kudos to original members Phil Ehart and Rich Williams for keeping the band going and to the new members for plugging in the holes and raising the bar high for quality musicianship and songwriting. (Standout Tracks: “”Rhythm In The Spirit” & “The Voyage of Eight Eighteen”). Billboard Top 200 Peak Position: #41.
- Metal Church – XI
With Mike Howe back on vocals for the first time since 1993’s Hanging In The Balance, Metal Church are completely reinvigorated. XI features 11 tracks that harken back to the old school Metal Church sound while still being fresh. The musicianship is stellar – Vanderhooof shreds like “no tomorrow” and Howe delivers vocals that will “blow your mind,” especially if you get the chance to hear him perform with the band live. This is one album that every metal fan should enjoy. (Standout Tracks: “Killing Your Time” & “Needle and the Suture”). Billboard Top 200 Peak Position: #57.
- Robert Reed – Sanctuary II
While not a household name in the United States, Robert Reed is one of the most talented musicians in the business today. On the sequel to his 2014 release Sanctuary, Reed once again pays homage to the great Mike Oldfield. This album features two long instrumental compositions, with each song being a progressive rock classic that would make Oldfield proud. With the exception of Simon Phillips on drums, Reed plays every instrument on Sanctuary II and he does so impeccably. We can’t wait to see what Reed does next!
- Michael Sweet – One Sided War
No stranger to our yearly Top 10 list, Stryper’s Michael Sweet continues his creative resurgence with One Sided War. The songs on this album are filled with melodies and great riffs which is desperately lacking in today’s commercial music scene. Although Sweet could have played all the guitar parts on this album himself, he asked two amazing shredders, Ethan Brosh and Joel Hoekstra, to join him on various tracks and their contributions really stand out, making One Sided War his most intense solo album to date. (Standout Tracks: “Bizarre” & “Golden Age”). Billboard Top 200 Peak Position: #77.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Don’t miss Michael Sweet at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, MA, on June 2, 2017. Purchase tickets HERE.
- [TIE] Sully Erna – Hometown Life
On his second studio album, the talented Sully Erna has another winner. While completely different than Godsmack and even his first solo album Avalon, Hometown Life features lots of diversity, including blues, country, jazz, rock, and R&B. The 10 songs on this album show Erna’s softer side and are deep in emotion. As Erna said on an episode of One On One With Mitch Lafon, “If I was constantly handcuffed to Godsmack, I think my spirit would just die in music.” Limelight Magazine is glad his solo career has enabled him to explore other genres and music styles. (Standout Tracks: “Hometown Life” & “Father of Time”). Billboard Top 200 Peak Position: #105.
- [TIE] Nada Surf – You Know Who You Are
On their eighth studio album and first since the stellar Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy (2012), Nada Surf only get better with age. Now a four-piece band since the addition of lead guitarist Doug Gillard, Nada Surf continue to write compelling music and catchy songs. From the opening track “Cold To See Clear” to the last song “Victory’s Yours,” there is no filler on this album. If you are a Nada Surf fan, purchase this album. If you never heard of them or given them a chance before, give it a listen and you shouldn’t be disappointed. (Standout Tracks: “Cold To See Clear” & “Rushing”).
We’d also like to acknowledge the following artists for creating some stellar albums in 2016.
Jeff Beck – Loud Hailer
Fates Warning – Theories of Flight
Haken – Affinity
Hammerfall – Built To Last
Redemption – The Art of Loss
Santana – IV
Lacey Sturm – Life Screams
Tiles – Pretending 2 Run
Rob Zombie – The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser